Blackwater under review in Afghanistan

The State Department‘s inspector general will review services provided by Blackwater Worldwide in Afghanistan, only weeks after the Baghdad government canceled the embattled security company’s contract in Iraq.

Inspector General Harold W. Geisel told the Commission on Wartime Contracting on Monday that his department will begin the performance review in March.

“We are reviewing Blackwater,” Mr. Geisel said.

The commission was established in 2008 with a mandate to provide two annual reports to Congress about corruption and other irregularities involving wartime contractors and related issues. An interim report is due to Congress by May 1.

The seven-member commission is bipartisan and independent. It hopes to prevent the sorts of problems that have plagued U.S. contracting in Iraq from occurring in Afghanistan, according to its Web site. The panel can refer any violation or potential violation of law to the attorney general.

Blackwater suffered intense criticism after its guards opened fire in a crowded square in Baghdad on Sept. 16, 2007, killing at least 14 unarmed Iraqi civilians.

A Blackwater security officer has pleaded guilty in U.S. court to voluntary manslaughter and attempt to commit manslaughter. Five other security personnel are awaiting trial next year.

Mr. Geisel told the panel that he was not surprised by Blackwater’s expulsion from Iraq. He “had every reason to believe that [the State Department’s] Diplomatic Security was planning for a forced departure from Blackwater in Iraq” prior to the Iraqi government’s announcement.

He added, however, that previous audits conducted on Blackwater showed that the company had an overall “good” performance apart from the incident in Baghdad’s Nusoor Square.

The upcoming review of Blackwater’s conduct in Afghanistan was requested by the Office of Inspector General’s new Middle East Regional Office, which serves as the principal planning and coordinating office for operations from North Africa to the Middle East and Central/South Asia. The office, which has headquarters in Amman, Jordan, called for the review of the security firm last month.

“The fact that adverse action is taken against Blackwater in one country does not mean adverse action will be taken against them in another country,” a State Department official told The Washington Times. He asked not to be named, citing the sensitivity of the subject.

A Blackwater spokeswoman, Anne Tyrrell, said she would not comment on the pending review but that the security company, based in Moyock, N.C., would continue to provide services “at the behest of the U.S. government and will continue to do so for as long as our services are required.”

The company has between 1,000 and 3,000 people abroad at any given time, mostly providing security for U.S. diplomats as well as training and aviation support, Miss Tyrrell said. She would not give the number of employees in Afghanistan but indicated that it was fewer than 1,000. It was not clear who might replace them if they are asked to leave.

The fate of Blackwater’s contract in Afghanistan will depend on the findings of the acquisitions office within the State Department as well as recommendations from the FBI and the U.S. ambassadors to Afghanistan and Iraq, the State Department official told The Times.

The Defense Department’s principal deputy inspector general, Thomas F. Gimble, and U.S. Agency for International Development Inspector General Donald A. Gambatesa also testified Monday before the panel. They said serious problems plague U.S. contracting in both Afghanistan and Iraq because of corruption, inadequate resources and lack of oversight.

Copyright 2009 The Washington Times, LLC